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Trends in Church Sports Outreach
By: Dr. Greg Linville

Research done by The Association of Church Sports and Recreation Ministers has revealed a common dilemma faced by most churches engaged in Sports Outreach: The Sports Outreach Ministry Disconnect Syndrome.  Most local church Sports Outreach Ministries do a good or even a great job of making connections with the unchurched of their communities. 

These Sports Outreaches are also often effective in relationally and verbally sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with those who participate in their leagues and activities. Unfortunately, few churches effectively assimilate new converts into the larger church family and into full spiritual maturity.  Why?  The Sports Outreach Ministry Disconnect Syndrome.

To eliminate the Sports Outreach Disconnect Syndrome, church leaders must make a commitment to work with the Sports Outreach Ministry of their church to build bridges from the "Gym to the "Sanctuary."

The key concept of a bridge is it runs in both directions. People from the "Sanctuary" (church members and regular attenders) cross the bridge leading to the church's local mission field (the church gym, ball field or fitness center) and when the Holy Spirit leads, they invite their new made friends and teammates to join them in the return trip to the "Sanctuary."

These local church sports missionaries are greatly aided by church leadership who have strategically created the necessary conduit programs and processes that enable and empower their parishioners with activities which are attractive and relevant to their unchurched friends and teammates.  These conduits bridge the chasm. 

The following outlines one church's strategic "bridge" plan:

1. Organize a local sports mission softball team and commission them to play in the summer community open league to establish relationships with players on other teams.  The first step goal it to invite unchurched athletes to play in the church's "in house" fall softball league.

2. Organize 4-6 Lord's Day evening "vesper picnics" to be held in local parks in the late summer and early fall.

3. Encourage all unchurched fall league players to come and "hang out" at the park and attend the vespers.

4. Invite all unchurched softball players to join in the late fall church basketball and volleyball leagues and/or fitness programs.

5. At the end of these indoor leagues in early December, church members invite unchurched participants to attend special Christmas events, which include Christmas musicals, pageants, plays, and Candle light Christmas Eve services.

6. At the special holiday services, unchurched people are invited to come to a special dinner designed to meet the church pastoral team in mid-January. This gathering would include an overview of the church and various programs available to church members and non-church members alike. Invite all in attendance to a six-week course held at the church on Sunday morning to learn more about what the church believes and does.

7. Every few months, the church offers a special activity such as a couple's retreat; financial seminars; recovery ministries; and/or a trip to a pro sports event, which ends with one of the players sharing a post-game testimony and youth retreats. They also encourage the unchurched to continue playing in upcoming leagues, but this time with another unchurched friend they would invite.

8. The church hosts a "Friend Sunday" in which everyone involved in the church Sports Outreach Ministry is encouraged to invite one of their teammates to the services. Often, this is done in conjunction with "Super Bowl" post-service dinner where videos featuring Christian testimonies of players are shown. These special "friend days" coincide with the beginning of the first week of the six week series on what the church believes and does. These services are planned so as to be extremely winsome and relevant to first-time visitors.

9. These activities are repeated twice a year: once in conjunction with Christmas and the other around Easter, which are the two most likely times an unchurched person would attend a church service.

10. This process continues throughout the year in different sports. Summer softball outreach teams are joined by winter basketball and volleyball teams, which play in community open leagues in the mid-winter and flow into Easter activities.

It should be obvious this church has conceived of a string of activities that systematically provide opportunities for their members who are regular "Sanctuary" participants to reach out and bring their unchurched friends into the body life of the church.

Dr. Greg Linville was one of the founding members of CSRM and has served as the executive director since 2000, www.csrm.org.

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